Blithe Spirit (1945)

(Image via fourcolorcomics.com)

Charles (Rex Harrison) is an author who is conducting odd research for his next book. In order to get background on psychic mediums, Charles and his second wife Ruth (Constance Cummings) make an appointment for a seance in his home with Madame Arcati (Margaret Rutherford), a local mystic who claims to be able to contact the dead.

Charles doesn’t expect anything to come of the seance, aside from gaining insight onto how operations such as Madame Arcati’s work. But things don’t exactly turn out as planned. Charles’ first wife, Elvira (Kay Hammond), is dead… and takes the seance as an opportunity to return from the dead and cause havoc in her former husband’s life.

Ruth, a skeptic, thinks Charles has lost his marbles, becoming increasingly frustrated with both her husband and the spirit of Elvira. She goes to Madame Arcati to try to fix the problem, but will Elvira’s presence ever be willing to leave Charles alone?

David Lean, who also co-wrote the adapted screenplay, directs this hilarious fantasy-comedy, Blithe Spirit. The original Broadway production was written by Noel Coward, who was allegedly not happy with the final result of the film. The film was released in May of 1945 in the UK and October of 1945 in the US, with the tagline “One Wife Too Many.” The film went on to win an Oscar for Best Visual Effects. (This is a review of the British release of the film, which I would recommend over the US version because it contains a few very funny bits of cheeky dialogue that were cut by the US censors. The British release is available on Netflix Instant. The film is also available on DVD and Blu-ray from Criterion.)

Blithe Spirit boasts a great research-gone-wrong premise with a lot of potential for hilarity, which is what attracted me to the film (along with the fact that Constance Cummings, who I’ve recently become a big fan of, stars). And luckily, that potential is met.

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The film is funny from the beginning and never really loses steam. It’s full of quirky characters, snappy dialogue and odd scenarios that have no trouble bringing the laughs.

I was most looking forward to Cummings’ performance, and she doesn’t disappoint either. She portrays Ruth’s frustration perfectly on-point, and her expression of that emotion is very funny.

Rex Harrison also does a great job here. He is more than capable of expressing the paranoia and mania that Charles feels when he realizes that his first wife is hanging around.

And of course, Kay Hammond is wonderful in her role of Elvira, the terrorizing ghost. Much can be said for the special effects used to give her character such a ghostly and glowing aura, but even with all of that makeup and tricky lighting setting the mood, a capable actress was needed in this role. Hammond more than delivers in that respect.

A great working chemistry and sense of conflict is built between these three wonderful lead performers.

Blithe Spirit may not be full of substance or have a highly complicated plot, but it is a seriously entertaining little piece of work. It’s a bit predictable – there are a few surprising developments, but in general it follows the path that you’d expect such a premise to take – but it’s one of the most fun films I’ve seen in 2012. The score: 5/5

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